Hollywood’s Top Secret Film Studio
Sound: B- Extras: C+ Film: B+
Is it really that hard to be efficient in running a movie
studio? When you hear how badly the
major studios handle their back catalogs and only just now in recent years
started to take care of their libraries, it is really bad. The National Football League, who has enough
respect for itself and franchise to still shoot all games on film no matter
what video formats exist, takes immediate care of their archive by repairing
damaged footage and restoring it immediately.
What if the studio and archive are top secret? This occasionally crossed my mind when watching the remarkable
story told by Peter Kuran’s documentary film Hollywood’s Top Secret Film Studio
(2003), one of the best of many great films he has logged to date.
This one covers the full-fledged studio the United States
Military had to establish once The Manhattan Project led to the first nuclear
bombs. The idea was to have a visual
record in every way, shape and form in a way in which the most information
could possibly be recorded and learned from.
This not only led to many innovations in filmmaking techniques and the
development of stocks that benefit Kodak and its few competitors to this day,
but likely caused a decrease of testing because the group of men assembled were
so skillful, bold, brave and talented that their work is still yielding
priceless dividends for us all.
They even tried out new frame formats to see if they could
capture images differently. One is
reminded of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), which shows the
impossibility of recording a nuclear holocaust, but these filmmakers probably
captured the majority of possible things you could see prior to that. Peter Kuran is incredible in pulling off
very rich works that cover a ton of territory in a short space. This is one of his best, among many vital
works that should all be seen and cherished.
Hope he makes more soon.
The image is 1.33 X 1 full frame throughout, except within
the program and in the supplement where the CinemaScope nuclear short is
shown. Too bad it is not anamorphic,
but this all looks pretty good under the circumstance, for all the work that
was done to restore it. The original
film needs more work, but this is a step forward just the same. The Dolby Digital sound is here in 5.1 and
2.0 Stereo sound, but the 5.1 fares better.
Too bad the actual archive films were not originally stereo, but the
sound has been cleaned up as well as can be expected. Extras include five “slide” photo sections: image gallery,
mushroom gallery, filmmakers in action, paratronic images and the secret studio
tour. Also included is the “digital
restoration” of segments of the archival footage, and Lookout Mountain Laboratory
Shot Number 12 in CinemaScope: A Daylight Tower Shot – 1955. The latter is a good short on one of the
endless tests that were done in formats other than the usual 1.33 X 1 16mm or
35mm film stocks. We are told that they
even experimented with VistaVision in the main program. You also get trailers for all the Goldhil
DVDs with the Atomic theme, all five of which we have reviewed elsewhere on
this site, isolated music score by tracks and those films repeated in a frame
dubbed “about VCE.” You can go to www.goldhil.com and order any of them.
- Nicholas Sheffo